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In the weeks leading up to IndyCar's season finale last month, Ryan Hunter-Reay was facing a critical decision.
The decision had nothing to do with him entering the final race at Fontana as a championship contender – a title he would ultimately go on to win by three points over Will Power – but instead concerned his future.
In the last year of his contract with Andretti Autosport, Hunter-Reay's services were in high demand. Not only did his current team want to re-sign him, but Penske Racing had shown interest. And to get an offer from Penske – which has 15 Indianapolis 500 victories and 11 open-wheel championships overall – is a dream for many drivers.
Hunter-Reay, though, opted for loyalty. He explained some of his reasoning in a phone interview with SB Nation on Wednesday.
"Andretti is definitely my home," Hunter-Reay said. "I love the guys there, I love the group there. And my team on the (No.) 28 car is a tight-knit group, and that's rare in racing to have that cohesiveness.
"I certainly have the utmost respect for Roger Penske and the Penske organization, but there were never any negotiations between us."
Prior to signing with Andretti heading into the 2010 season, Hunter-Reay had bounced around from one mid-level ride to the next in search for a team which had the right combination of resources and funding – a combination that would properly allow him to showcase his talent.
And though it took a while before all the pieces would be in place at Andretti, eventually the puzzle came together quite nicely.
This past season, Hunter-Reay set career-bests in wins (four) and podium finishes (six), and it all culminated with him becoming the first American to win the IndyCar championship since Sam Hornish Jr. six years before.
It was also the first time in five years a Michael Andretti-owned car won the title.
"Michael bent over backward to run me in the early days of 2010, and now that things are going well, it's because of an entire team effort," Hunter-Reay said. "Racing is a people sport and when you've got everyone pushing the same direction and getting along, it's rare – and you need to hold onto that."
All of which is why, despite interest from other outfits, Hunter-Reay chose to remain loyal and reciprocate the faith which had been shown to him. Now armed with a two-year contract extension, the native Texan no longer has to wonder whether he'll have a ride the following season; he finally has the long-term stability he's always sought.
"It is definitely nice to have found that security," Hunter-Reay said. "It's been a long road to have found that steady home, but I've found it and I'm very happy."